James Walsh is not a police officer, nor a lawyer. But he’s helped develop a piece of technology that could make both these jobs a lot easier.
A postdoctoral researcher at UniSA STEM, a commercialisation arm of the University of South Australia, Walsh collaborated with colleagues to make a tool that can survey all the details of a criminal case, and then spit out an easy-to-grasp snapshot.
The technology creates a simple, digestible story to help the viewer understand what has gone on at the scene of a crime.
The tool is based on an approach called narrative visualisation, a form of storytelling that uses images to break down and communicate complicated ideas.
The software could save police and law-makers many hours of admin and case transfer time and is now being developed commercially by Melbourne-based company Genix Ventures after being created with help from the University of South Australia’s Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre.
“Police tell us it can take up to 400 hours – more than two months work for one person – to prepare the document they used to brief a legal team, something called the ‘statement of facts,” Walsh said.
“And so we developed the tool to sort through all the digital case materials already on file, and present the key information quickly and accurately.”
The tool uses filed materials to create a snapshot of a crime at the push of a button, ready to be presented to other police or lawyers in an hour or less.
The rest of the detailed case information is not lost – it just sits in the background, ready to be accessed as needs arise later in the investigation or trial process.
Walsh said the software works by focusing on key events of a case, and by identifying a subject, a verb and an object for each one.
“So as a simple example, imagine you’ve got a person called Alex, who shot a person called Taylor,” Walsh said.
“This would be presented as one event in the snapshot, and connected to other major events in a timeline.”
Here, Alex is the subject, Taylor is the object, and the action is the shooting.
Perhaps the next event might have been that Alex ran down a laneway, and threw the gun into a drain. They then hopped into a car their cousin was driving.
After viewing the main narrative snapshot of these key events, later police or lawyers considering the case might decide to zoom in on Alex, and find extra information. They could click through to look at the file containing Alex’s passport, and see an arrival in Australia one month earlier from Canada.
They could find the escape car registration number, as told by a witness to a police officer and added as a documented piece of evidence in the case.
Neither of those pieces of information is critical in the initial view but could be vital in later determining who else needs to be questioned.
Like any kind of tool that relies on data, the snapshot is only ever as good as the primary information filed in the first place. So this approach certainly doesn’t take away from the need for police to keep collecting evidence as thoroughly as they always have.
“The system we developed works with the system the police are already using to label and store all the evidence and information they have for each case,” Walsh said.
Narrative visualisation could be useful in many applications other than just managing police prosecutions and court cases.
“It’s useful in any scenario that is complicated but needs to be summarised for effective communication between people involved,” Walsh said.
“So even in things like patient handovers in hospitals, where nurses and doctors on a new shift need be brought up to speed really quickly on the health of someone who came into ICU during the night after a car crash.”Jump to next article